12 Thrilling Facts About Rear Window

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Alfred Hitchcock taught us all the dangers of spying on your neighbors with Rear Window, the critically-acclaimed thriller that was released on September 1, 1954. The single-set movie concerns L.B. "Jeff" Jefferies, a photojournalist stuck in his apartment thanks to a broken leg. He accidentally witnesses what he thinks is a murder, but must prove to the police, his nurse Stella, and his girlfriend Lisa that he isn't just imagining things.

Rear Window features performances from Hitchcock regulars Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly and couture costumes from fashion icon Edith Head. But before you settle in for 112 minutes of claustrophobia, here are a few facts about the movie’s gossip-laden production.

1. THE ORIGINAL STORY DOESN’T INCLUDE LISA OR STELLA.

Grace Kelly and Thelma Ritter in 'Rear Window' (1954)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Rear Window was based on Cornell Woolrich's short story, “It Had to Be Murder.” In Woolrich’s version, the voyeuristic protagonist does not have a girlfriend or a nurse, although he does have a “day houseman” named Sam who checks in on him. Oh and his leg injury? It isn't explicitly mentioned until the very last line.

2. ALFRED HITCHCOCK WAS INSPIRED BY TWO ACTUAL MURDER CASES.

Although John Michael Hayes wrote the screenplay for the movie, Hitchcock helped with the actual crime at the center of the story. As he told François Truffaut, he lifted two news items from the British press: the 1910 case of Dr. Hawley Crippen and the 1924 case of Patrick Mohan. Crippen killed his wife, told friends she went to America, and then aroused suspicion by flaunting his secretary around town. Police later found body parts in the Crippen home and arrested the doctor for murder. (Some now believe Crippen was innocent.) Mohan also dismembered his pregnant girlfriend, throwing pieces of her body out a train window. But he didn’t know what to do with her head, and it was this gruesome detail that inspired Hitchcock to include a plot thread about digging up the neighbors’ flower bed for evidence.

3. GRACE KELLY TURNED DOWN THE LEAD IN ON THE WATERFRONT TO STAR IN REAR WINDOW.

In the fall of 1953, Grace Kelly was offered the female lead in two films: one was Rear Window, the other was Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront. Although she was dying to work with Hitchcock again, On the Waterfront would’ve allowed Kelly to stay in New York, which she preferred to Los Angeles. Still, she ultimately chose to play socialite Lisa Fremont over blue-collar Edie Doyle. Instead, the part went to Eva Marie Saint, who would become a Hitchcock blonde herself with North by Northwest.

4. HITCHCOCK MODELED THE VILLAIN ON A PRODUCER HE HATED.

Hitchcock had a long-standing grudge with his former producer, David O. Selznick. The director believed Selznick had meddled too much with his movies, so much so that Hitchcock effectively disowned his first film with the producer, Rebecca. His ties to Selznick ended with the 1947 movie The Paradine Case, though, so Hitch decided to enact a sly bit of revenge onscreen. It involved Raymond Burr, the actor playing Rear Window villain Lars Thorwald. Hitchcock gave Burr glasses just like Selznick’s and curly gray hair to match. He also instructed Burr to adopt many of the producer’s mannerisms, such as the way he cradled a telephone in his neck. When all was said and done, Burr’s murderous character looked a lot like Selznick, no doubt to the producer’s supreme annoyance.

5. JIMMY STEWART’S WIFE DIDN’T WANT HIM TO MAKE A MOVIE WITH KELLY.

Before she was Princess Grace of Monaco, Grace Kelly had a reputation (whether true or not) for having affairs with her male costars—even the married ones. One of those men was Ray Milland, whose spurned wife just happened to be good friends with Jimmy Stewart's wife, Gloria. Gloria was less than thrilled at the prospect of her husband working with Kelly, and developed a bit of paranoia. According to True Grace: The Life and Times of an American Princess, Gloria was on set constantly, watching for signs of an affair. Nothing materialized, although Rear Window cast member Thelma Ritter confirmed that Kelly was a huge flirt. “I think it took [Stewart] back to his fancy-free, footloose bachelor days,” she said. “I don’t say he flirted, but he didn’t seem to mind it, either.”

6. “MISS TORSO” WAS A TEENAGE BALLERINA.

Georgine Darcy in 'Rear Window' (1954)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Georgine Darcy was 17 years old when she was cast as “Miss Torso,” Jeff’s dancing neighbor. Hitchcock picked her out of a pile of publicity photos; hers apparently caught his eye because she had paid extra for color prints. Darcy was fairly new in town, having left her home in Brooklyn just the year before to pursue ballet in California. So when Hitchcock met her, he suggested she get an agent. She didn’t, though, and was subsequently paid just $350 for her work. (That’s about $3150 in today's dollars.)

7. THE “SONGWRITER” WAS ALSO ONE IN REAL LIFE.

Ross Bagdasarian played the pianist neighbor who is frequently seen composing new pieces. The credits bill him as “The Songwriter,” which is pretty appropriate, considering what Bagdasarian did when he wasn’t acting. He was also a pianist and composer himself, and made his name by creating Alvin and the Chipmunks. But before he recorded “The Chipmunk Song” in 1958, he helped Hitch with his Rear Window cameo. Watch the Songwriter’s apartment and you’ll see a portly fellow winding his clock.

8. JEFF AND LISA’S ROMANCE IS SUPPOSEDLY BASED ON A REAL INGRID BERGMAN FLING.

Rumor has it that Jeff and Lisa were based on war photographer Robert Capa and Ingrid Bergman. The pair dated while Bergman was filming Notorious with Hitchcock in 1946, so he saw the relationship firsthand. The affair ended within a year, but it clearly struck a chord with Hitchcock, who had what many described as an "acute, unrequited passion" for Bergman. Like Jeff, Capa was a photojournalist who lived in Greenwich Village. And in a particularly eerie twist of fate, they both suffered leg injuries while on the job.

9. THE ELABORATE SET COST SERIOUS CASH.

Grace Kelly and James Stewart in 'Rear Window' (1954)
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

The apartment complex seen in Rear Window was completely constructed on the Paramount Studios lot—and it cost a pretty penny. It reportedly cost an “unprecedented” $9000 to design and $72,000 to build. (About $728,805 total, when adjusted for inflation.) The final set included seven apartment buildings and three other buildings on the other side of the street. It also boasted 31 apartments, although only a handful were fully furnished.

10. IT’S THE ONLY FILM WHERE KELLY SMOKES ON-SCREEN.

Kelly refused to smoke cigarettes in her movies, but she made a slight exception for Hitchcock in Rear Window. In one scene, she’s seen with an unlit cigarette between her lips. The camera cuts to Stewart, then back to her. She’s suddenly holding a lit cigarette, which she soon puts out. This way, Hitchcock got his smoking scene, while Kelly never technically broke her rule.

11. HITCHCOCK DELIBERATELY MISDIRECTED HIS ACTORS FOR LAUGHS.

Each neighbor has a hook: Miss Torso is a dancer, Miss Lonelyhearts is severely single, the Songwriter is, well, a songwriter. Then there’s that random couple sleeping on the fire escape. Actors Sara Berner and Frank Cady played the unnamed pair, who spend most of the movie fidgeting on a mattress outdoors without incident. Until it rains. For this scene, Hitchcock intentionally messed with his actors. He told Berner to pull the mattress one way and Cady to pull it the other. Neither one knew the other had received conflicting directions. So when Hitchcock called "action," the pair struggled with the mattress until Cady accidentally flew into the window. Hitchcock thought it was so funny, he kept it in the movie.

12. THE BOOK LISA READS AT THE END IS A FINAL WINK.

In the final scene of Rear Window, Lisa is seen reading the book Beyond the High Himalayas by William O. Douglas. Douglas was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1939 through 1975, but Lisa wasn’t skimming that book for legalese. Douglas suffered from polio as a child, and was told by doctors that he would be crippled for life. But after taking up hiking, Douglas discovered that a) he could definitely walk and b) he loved nature. He wrote a few books about his adventures as an ode to the great outdoors. Beyond the High Himalayas was one of them.

8 Haunting Horror Movie Gimmicks

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

In the 1950s and 1960s, horror movies were making studios huge profits on shoestring budgets. But after the market hit horror overload, directors and studios had to be extra creative to get people to flock to theaters. That's when a flood of different gimmicks were introduced at movie theaters across the country to make a film stand out from the crowd. From hypnotists to life insurance policies and free vomit bags, here's a brief history of some of the most memorable horror movie gimmicks.

1. PSYCHO-RAMA // MY WORLD DIES SCREAMING (1958)

In order to truly become a classic, a horror movie can't just work on the surface; it has to get deep inside of your head. That's what Psycho-Rama tried to achieve when it was first conceived for My World Dies Screaming, later renamed Terror in the Haunted House. Psycho-Rama introduced audiences to subliminal imagery in order to let the scares sink in more than any traditional film could.

Skulls, snakes, ghoulish faces, and the word "Death" would all appear onscreen for a fraction of a second—not long enough for an audience member to consciously notice it, but it was enough to get them uneasy. Obviously Psycho-Rama didn't really catch on with the public or the film industry, but horror directors, like William Friedkin in The Exorcist, have since gone on to use this quick imagery technique to enhance their own movies.

2. FRIGHT INSURANCE // MACABRE (1958)

Director William Castle didn't make a name for himself in the film industry by directing cinematic classics; instead, he relied on shock and schlock to help fill movie theater seats. His movies were full of what audiences craved at the time: horror, gore, terror, suspense, and a heaping helping of camp. But his true genius came from marketing—and the gimmicks he brought to every movie, which have since become legendary among horrorphiles.

His most famous stunt was the life insurance policy he purchased for every member of an audience that paid to see Macabre. This was a real policy backed by Lloyd's of London, so if you died of fright in your seat, your family would receive $1000. Now who wouldn't want to roll the dice on that type of deal? Of course, the policy didn't cover anyone with a preexisting medical condition or an audience member who committed suicide during the screening. Lloyd's had to draw the line somewhere, right?

3. HYPNO-VISTA // HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM (1959)

How do you make your routine horror movie stand out from the crowd? Hypnotize your audience, of course. Thus Hypno-Vista was born. For this gimmick, James Nicholson, president of American International Pictures, suggested that a lecture by a hypnotist, Dr. Emile Franchel, should precede Horrors of the Black Museum, which had a plot focusing on a hypnotizing killer.

For 13 minutes, Dr. Franchel talked to the audience about the science behind hypnotism, before attempting to hypnotize them himself in order to feel more immersed in the story. Nowadays it comes off as overlong and dry, but it was a gimmick that got people into theaters back in 1959. Plus, writer Herman Cohen said that eventually the lecture had to be removed whenever the movie re-aired on TV because it did, in fact, hypnotize some people.

4. NO LATE ADMISSION // PSYCHO (1960)

Though this isn't the most gimmickiest of gimmicks, Alfred Hitchcock's insistence that no audience member be admitted into Psycho once the movie started got a lot of publicity at the time. The Master of Suspense's reasoning is less about drumming up publicity and more about audience satisfaction, though. Because Janet Leigh gets killed so early into the movie, he didn't want people to miss her part and feel misled by the movie's marketing.

This publicity tactic wasn't completely novel, though, as the groundbreaking French horror movie Les Diaboliques (1955) had a similar policy in place. This was at a time when people would simply stroll into movie screenings whenever they wanted, so to see a director—especially one so masterful at the art of publicity—who was adamant about showing up on time was a great way to pique some interest.

5. FRIGHT BREAK // HOMICIDAL (1961)

Another classic William Castle gimmick was the "fright break" he offered to audience members during his 1961 movie, Homicidal. Here, a timer would appear on the screen just as the film was hurtling toward its gruesome climax. Frightened audience members had 45 seconds to leave the theater and still get a full refund on their ticket. There was a catch, though.

Frightened audience members who decided to take the easy way out were shamed into the "coward's corner," which was a yellow cardboard booth supervised by some poor sap theater employee. Then, they were forced to sign a paper reading "I'm a bona-fide coward," before getting their money back. Obviously, at the risk of such humiliation, most people decided to just grit their teeth and experience the horror on the screen instead.

6. THE PUNISHMENT POLL // MR. SARDONICUS (1961)

The most interactive of William Castle's schlocky horror gimmicks put the fate of the film itself into the hands of the audience. Dubbed the "punishment poll," Castle devised a way to let viewers vote on the fate of the characters in the movie Mr. Sardonicus. Upon entering the theater, people were given a card with a picture of a thumb on it that would glow when a special light was placed on it. "Thumbs up" meant that Mr. Sardonicus would be given mercy, and "thumbs down" meant … well, you get the idea.

Apparently audiences never gave ol' Sardonicus the thumbs up, despite Castle's claims that the happier ending was filmed and ready to go. However, no alternative ending has ever surfaced, leaving many to doubt his claims. Chances are, there was only one way out for Mr. Sardonicus.

7. FREE VOMIT BAGS // MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970)

Horror fans are mostly masochists at heart. They don't want to be entertained—they want to be terrified. So when the folks behind 1970's Mark of the Devil gave out free vomit bags to the audience due to the film's grotesque nature, how could any self-respecting horror fan not be intrigued? It wasn't just the bags that the studio was advertising; it also claimed the film was rated V, for violence—and maybe some vomit?

8. DUO-VISION // WICKED, WICKED (1973)

Duo-Vision was hyped as the new storytelling technique in cinema—offering two times the terror for the price of one ticket. Of course Duo-Vision is just fancy marketing lingo for split-screen, meaning audiences see a film from two completely different perspectives side-by-side. In the 1973 horror film Wicked, Wicked, that meant watching the movie from the points of view of both the killer and his victims.

Seems like a perfect concept for the horror genre, right? Well, Duo-Vision wasn't just employed during the movie's most horrific moments; it was used for the movie's entire 95-minute runtime. The technique had been used sparingly in other films—most notably in Brian De Palma's much better film Sisters (1973)—but it had never been implemented to this extent. A little bit of Duo-Vision apparently goes a long way, because it fell out of favor soon after.

John Carpenter May Be Planning a They Live Sequel

Universal Studios Home Video
Universal Studios Home Video

John Carpenter is one of the horror genre's biggest names. The man behind the original Halloween, The Fog, Escape from New York, and The Thing, ​Carpenter has had a long enough career to see many of his most popular creations be remade, including this year's new Halloween film, which features some of the original actors returning to their iconic roles to continue a decades-long story.

But in a recent interview with ​Den of Geek, when Carpenter was questioned about whether his cult classic They Live might he ripe for revisiting, Carpenter teased: "Well, I’m not gonna tell you about that, because it might be closer to reality than you think."

​They Live, which came out in 1988, featured the late professional wrestler 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper in his signature role as a man who finds a pair of sunglasses that allow him to see the true state of the world and uncover an alien invasion. Like so many of Carpenter's other films, it has continued to amass a cult following in the decades since its release—especially among those viewers who understood and appreciated its underlying political metaphor.

Today's highly divisive political climate makes it a perfect time for a sequel/reboot/reimagining of They Live, and it sounds as if Carpenter might agree.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER